Thursday, April 23, 2009

On "The End of History" and "After"

Francis Fukuyama's 1989 essay "The End of History?" can be found here.

His recent (2006) response to criticism, "After the 'End of History,'" can be found here.

Francis Fukuyama's essay posits some interesting ideas about the future of international polity and relations. Writing in 1989 as the Soviet Union was failing, he argues that historical progress as we know will fall with the collapse of the USSR. This is not to say that history will not be made in the future, but "historical progress" as viewed by Fukuyama is political and economic progress. His argument is that a western or liberal democracy has been shown to be the ultimate form of government and capitalism the ultimate economic form. Even though other nations employ different political and economic structures, Fukuyama suggests that this liberal democracy and capitalism are widely recognized and objectively the pinnacle of their fields and with the fall of Communism, the end of history is thus the end of competition among political and economic systems.

This notion of the end of history is not novel to the fall of Soviet Russia though, but dates back to the end of the French revolution. A German philosopher Hegel proposed that French democracy was the highest form of governmental structure, and thus, humanity had reached its apex and the historical progression of politics would cease.

The most contentious aspect of this idea is not its obvious western-centrism, but the idea that man has limits in his capacity for development. It is perhaps not as scary as the notion of asymptotic progress, whereby we may never reach our potential; but that we actually cannot discover or invent a more equal economic or political system has significant other limiting implications as well.

Fukuyama, however, declares only politics and economies will cease to significantly evolve while culture and religions and other aspects of humanity will always be a source for development. This is in part, he contends, because there will continue to be discrepancies in heritage that will polarize peoples from one another. For Fukuyama, the end of history means the end of political wars on a grand scale between nations, but it cannot mean the end of civil, cultural, religious, or other wars that are fought on localized fields.

Still, I can't help but wonder what other limitations we have as human beings. On the one hand it is a fantastic revelation to realize we have achieved the best of something, but on the other, it means that we are done. I'm not sure which is better: constantly striving towards an unachievable goal, or reaching that goal and having nothing more to conquer.

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